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For the visually hungry on culture’s path, or, for that matter, those lost in their own closets, it is difficult to avoid textiles. Theirs is a persistent capacity-to seduce us, to engage us in mystery, to clothe our gender, to physically and intimately touch us, to celebrate place and time, to record history and entangle us in the branches of family trees. Textiles make exquisite the most simple functions of daily life and make memorable the necessarily grand occasion. We find ourselves to be part of the weave of fabric, enmeshed in fictional as well as tactile connections to our real and imagined ancestors and to our artisanal relatives, both recent and ancient. Threads lead us on imagined voyages to live in moments into which we were not born. Awed by the qualities inherent in these fabrics, we idealize their beauty, we empathize with the effort of their creation, and we suffer from our ignorance as to the life of these textiles in their original contexts.
Artists who use fiber as their medium have offered up images to artists with paint on their hands for millennia: images of human beings, propositions about the natural world, and an abstract formal language of potent and unrelenting power. The rotating exhibitions of Asian textiles in The RISD Museum’s collection offer the opportunity to visit an extraordinarily well stocked and organized attic of collective memory. These textiles are tickets to travel through time and space. Through them we can meditate in a Zen garden, embroider the afternoon away, accept a dinner invitation from a high official, examine a palace paradise, fly with a dragon. The depths, the surfaces, the rhythms, the stories, the colors, the iconography, the implications as source and inspiration all seem unlimited, overwhelming.
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